Millie Kelly is a London-based artist, originally from Teignmouth, Devon. Her paintings are purposefully seen as ‘kitsch’ lying somewhere between figuration and abstraction. Working with oil on canvas, she has had exhibitions in galleries such as the Oxo tower in London, and won the prestigious Clyde & Co award in 2015-16.
At what point did you decide to become an artist?
I guess it was never really a conscious decision. I grew up creating and making ‘stuff’, finding satisfaction in creating something physical and beautiful. My mum inspires me every single day! She’s completely mad and life has thrown the worst things at her, but shes strong and fabulous and always encouraged me to do what made me happiest.
Talk to me about the recurring themes in your paintings, I can see there’s imagery related to your childhood?
As children, we had particular fixations on things, collections of things, and ordering things in a particular way. I find that childlike, compulsiveness energy really exciting because I know for one, that I’m a compulsive person when it comes to the ideas I have when painting. The notion of repeated themes links in with this compulsive behaviour. I find it difficult to use imagery only once, I get overly excited about the idea, and have to paint it over and over again until I’ve exhausted it and no longer need to use it, or that it’s replaced with a fresh idea or fixation. It’s a pretty bazaar way of working, but I hope that the energy is translated visually in the works. The layering provokes a narrative to this way of working; choosing to obscure previous elements or ideas and revealing others. I suppose bringing the childlike compulsiveness into adult life where you seek order and control? When I look at the paintings, I see a lot of my personality and character within them, it’s very self defining. The way I’m talking about the paintings perhaps could be seen as too self indulgent, but my drive is for art to become accessible to the many. I use imagery that is from my childhood era, but at the same time, that imagery is almost universally recognised - i.e. the troll dolls, the Mr Blobbies, in an attempt to premeditate a connection with the viewer and their recognition with the image. I’m obsessed with repeating ‘eyes’ in the works. I find them fascinating, they’re so engaging yet so creepy to look at. It creates a tension and confrontation with the viewer, they become as involved with the works as the works do with the viewer. Immediate enagagment.
How do you go about making a painting?
The composition is never really preconceived, I always tend to work within a canvas so it eradicates any kind of gravitational pull, giving me the freedom to rotate and paint continuously until I find a composition that I can start to work with. My sketchbook is full of weird, dodgy drawings that help me work out particular sections of a painting. It becomes a useful repertoire of ideas that I can come back to. A lot of them I don’t ever remember doing, they’re very immediate drawings/doodles which I find beautifully naive and innocent which often cannot be translated as well in paint so the sketchbook is definitely a useful resource for me.
What’s your next big project?
My 7 year old godson is my right hand man for the series I’ve just started. He’s a wonderful drawer of dinosaurs and he’s just constantly filling pages with these dinosaurs. It’s his current obsession and fixation and I’m enjoying watching him progress. So I’m using his drawings on a massive scale in these paintings. His Shonisaurus is the first to feature and when I showed Freddie, he was absolutely ecstatic and manically took to the drawing pad again. That for me, is enough excitement and positive energy to build a body of work.